India’s captain Rohit Sharma (left) and his Pakistani counterpart Babar Azam
India’s captain Rohit Sharma (left) and his Pakistani counterpart Babar Azam next to the tournament trophy as they attend the Captains’ Day event at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on October 4, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

AHMEDABAD: Babar Azam's Pakistan look for their first ever World Cup win over India on Saturday in front of a record crowd expected to number around 120,000 fans who will overwhelmingly be backing Rohit Sharma's home side.

India and Pakistan are staunch cricketing rivals but only play against each other in international tournaments due to recent political tensions.

Any meeting between them always raises fan interest with millions watching around the globe in a bonanza for broadcasters and sponsors.

Fans 'in hospital'

Fans desperate to watch the match have even booked beds in city hospital wards after hotels ran out of rooms.

By signing up for health check-ups and overnight stays in private hospitals, the accommodation has proved a cheaper option with some hotels hiking rates by as much as 10 times.

Both teams remain unbeaten coming into the match at Ahmedabad's Narendra Modi Stadium, named for the Indian prime minister.

Local officials told AFP the 132,000-capacity stadium would host around 115,000 to 120,000 fans with some seats lost due to ramps and stage set up for a pre-game concert.

The number could be a record for any cricket match around the globe and surpass the previous figure of 104,859, which turned out to watch last year's Indian Premier League final at the same venue.

Wait across the border

Pakistan nationals are still awaiting their India visa and only a handful of Pakistani fans, who have British and US passports, have turned up to watch the game.

Super fan "Chahcha" (uncle) Basheer was outside the stadium on Friday draped in a Pakistan and Indian coloured cloak and shouting "Pakistan Zindabad" (Long Live Pakistan).

This is Pakistan's first match after their record World Cup chase of 345 against Sri Lanka, with wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Rizwan scoring an unbeaten 131 and Abdullah Shafique making 113.

"I don't focus on the past; I try to focus on the future," Pakistan skipper Babar Azam told reporters.

"Such records are made to be broken and I try to break them. I will try to give a good performance tomorrow. I believe my team did well in the first two matches and will do well in the next matches as well."

Pakistan boast a fiery bowling attack led by left-arm quick Shaheen Shah Afridi but they still conceded 344 runs to Sri Lanka on Tuesday.

Security concerns saw Saturday's match brought forward a day from its original date, which coincided with a major Hindu festival in the city.

'Good game of cricket’

Authorities are deploying 11,000 police officers to keep order - around one for every 11 spectators.

India came into the World Cup as the top-ranked ODI team and lived up to the billing of favourites with a six-wicket win over five-time winners Australia.

They are fresh from their eight-wicket thrashing of Afghanistan after skipper Rohit Sharma smashed a record seventh World Cup century on Wednesday.

But Rohit played down the hype around the tournament's most anticipated fixture.

"Like I said many times before, in the context of it, yes, it's a massive game. But for us, what is important is, we are playing an opposition tomorrow, which will be quality," said Rohit.

"So, we've just got to come against a quality opposition and play good cricket, which we've done in the last two games. And hopefully we can again show some consistency in our performance and play a good game of cricket."

Unable to beat India

Pakistan have never won against India in the World Cup in their seven outings since 1992.

Their previous loss was by 89 runs in a rain-hit league match of the 2019 edition in Manchester.

India remain behind in their overall ODI head-to-heads against Pakistan with 56 wins and 73 losses but have clearly been the stronger team in recent meetings.

Rohit's men hammered Pakistan by 228 runs in their Asia Cup Super Four clash last month and went on to win the regional tournament.

Top Indian batsmen have been among the runs in the two victories at the World Cup so far with Virat Kohli hitting 85 and KL Rahul an unbeaten 97 against Australia.

Kohli then made an undefeated 55 in the win over Afghanistan.

Fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah's 4-39 on Wednesday gave the Indian bowling unit a boost ahead of Saturday's match.

Journalists from Pakistan have arrived in India for the match after delays in their visa approvals saw them miss the team's opening two games.